On the mission to ski the Balkans, the next logical destination was Romania and the Carpathian Mountains. The expectations were not very high, but in the end we realized our perception of Romania was mostly wrong. We expected a poor country, with outdated infrastructure and mediocre mountains. In the end it turned out a great "boys weeks" destination, with superb ski-touring terrain, interesting food, friendly people, lively historical cities in Transylvania and breathtaking medieval castles, which inspired Drakula. We also realized the western Carpathian Mountains are actually closer (6 hours) to Slovenia then most of the mountain ranges in the Balkans (9+ hours), with completely new highways as a bonus. As the opening photo suggests, we had very serious winter conditions throughout the whole week. Snow was abundant and the temperature was -5 C in the valley and down to -20 C in the mountains. Despite having only one sunny day, all ski-touring trips were a big success.
After having delicious Hungarian goulash at my good friend Jerry in Kecskemet and spending a charming evening in Timisoara (photo above), we penetrated the western Carpathians and settled in Poiana Marului. This is now a quiet village set between the mountains, but used to be a luxurious tourist destination for Ceausescuand his communist elite. For starters we attacked Bistricioara (cca 2000m) over the ridge and surprised a few loggers when skiing back to the village. We spent the night in the cozy Artarul pension, which is run by a retired Canadian "Gasterbiter" and his lovely wife. The next morning we did a quick tour of the ruined 5-star hotel (photo below) and continued our journey towards the east.
Over the years, Artač developed an interesting theory, which goes something like this: "With abundant snow and low temperatures, there is no such thing as bad weather for ski touring, as long as you choose the right destination". In this spirit, we continued towards the east and attacked Sturu (1823m) along the way. It turned out a great trip, with first class powder and a big fire to free our instincts and keep us warm at -15 C.
Exhausted from a long day in the mountains, we stopped for the night in Hunedoara. We woke up early next morning and were blown away by the Corvin Castle (photo below), which would surely please Drakula himself. After lunch, we drove to Sibiu, a very well preserved medieval city. Even though the temperatures were around -10 C, the city was quite lively, and we spent the evening in one of the underground pubs. We slept in a cozy Vila Sibiu (12 eur / person), where Leon and Keber decided to continue the party, by drinking and singing Bosnian songs. When joining for breakfast they were slightly embarrassed, but we all had a great laugh.
Our next destination was Balea Lac (2050m), which is located high in the Fagaras mountains. There is a road which goes up to the lake and across a tunnel towards the south, but was completely unrecognizable under meters of snow. Since the cableway was not operational, we took the second option called "ski-touring ascent" and reached the lake in a snow blizzard at -20 C. We entered the ice chapel with skies and had a drink at the ice residence. It was -5 C inside the hotel, and the beer remained chilly until the last sip. Looking for something cheaper and especially warmer, we settled down in Cabana Paltinu, with a nice fireplace and definitely the best option around. There we also met Adrian (Davo), who was preparing to organize a ski-touring competition in two days. We had a long discussion on the weather conditions and snow stability, which he worried, will blow away the weekend event.
We woke up early next morning and the sun was shining for the first time on this trip. It was too dangerous for any serious mountaineering, so we decided to walk through the tunnel and descend to Cabana Capra. About 200m above the cottage, Keber triggered a small avalanche, and even I had a short ride. We decided to avoid any potential "Cabana Express" and rather enjoyed sunbathing and lunch at the tunnel entrance.
After a long walk through the tunnel, we reunified with Davo, who was delighted to tell us that northern slopes were more than stable. This is just when Keber popped a new beer and was expecting to take the afternoon easy. He was a little grumpy at first but quickly surrendered to powder delights in the neighboring valley:
In the evening, we drove to a small ski resort Paltinis and enjoyed sauna in a luxurious 4-star hotel. Well rested next morning we did a 20km round trip across a No-name mountain (cca 1970m). We spent the last night in Arad, also a nice and historical city, and drove back towards the reality of everyday life. Tired, happy and satisfied!
After a few years hijacked by global warming, this winter was finally cold, snowy and long. Our ski-touring season started in November and lasted until the end of May. I grabbed this opportunity by the horns and made some great trips with the lads but also with coworkers and family. So lets go back to November 2017, which was heavily hit by powder. Together with Robert we attacked Vošca (1737m) both from sunny Slovenia and shady Austria:
December brought additional snow and semi-stable conditions, making Karavanke an easy and logical choice. Artač and Leon, who don't need additional introduction, popped-up like rabbits on the first sunny weekend. Srednji vrh (1797m) gave us light "Canadian" powder, which is not very common in Slovenian mountains. Even Artač was showing signs of emotional delight, which is even less common :)
Since Karavanke mountains were becoming our good friends, Leon and I decided to take another stab at Srednji vrh. Above Tinček, we were seduced by a solid ski-track which led us directly towards Stol (2225m). We turned around on 1800m and enjoyed a chilly lunch with spectacular views. Solid skiing but less powder due to South / East orientation of the slopes:
December was so nutorious that we decided to tackle a new region in Karavanke. East of Trupejevo poldne, there is a gorup of mountains around 1800m high, all very safe and attractive to ski. We started in Srednji vrh and skied both from Grajščica (cca 1780m) and Murnovec (1864m) which is the highest member of the gang. We cooked pasta at the very top and enjoyed powder on a perfectly sunny day. Again it was very chilly and we estimated around -20C in the shady valley behind Murnovec:
Starting in 2018, the winter conditions remained very stable. After a heavy lunch at my mother's house and putting the kids to sleep, Ana and I decided to stretch our legs and attempt to break the fog. Mission accomplished as we drank tea and watched the sunset from the top of Krim (1107m). It wasn't long before we realized it's -10 degrees and the night is right around the corner. I skied great powder straight to our house, while Ana managed to hitchhike a local jeep:
On the first days of February, we experienced one of the heaviest snowfalls documented in the last 100 years. Some places received over a meter of snow in less than 24 hours. The team was quick to assemble and considering safety, we attacked the abandoned ski-piste Macesnovec (1200m) above Rateče, precisely on the border with Italy. We enjoyed fantastic winter scenery, but on the other hand, we consumed no pleasure in skiing. We usually celebrate big quantities of snow, especially in combination with low temperatures and steep slopes.. however, this time it was simply TOO MUCH! The only possible descent was to follow our own tracks. Disappointment was extinguished with beer "alla spina" and a long afternoon debate:
After the legendary boys week in Romania (preparing a separate post), it was time to fulfil an old promise and give my colleague Miha a ski touring taste. There was plenty of snow on Ljubelj and the quantity increased as we attacked the popular Triangel (1705m). Miha was more than happy, but only next season will show if he sticks with the sport:
One of the season highlights was ski-touring with Jakob, my 2-year-old son. He was very excited and this was also an opportunity for father-son bonding. In the middle of April we made a trip to Blejska koča(1630m) above Pokljuka. Lojze was quick enough to follow, while the other family members were dragging behind:
There was a lot of snowfall on Pokljuka this winter, which brought great spring conditions. Together with Leon we attacked Brda (2009m), where we enjoyed solitude, great views of Triglav and a skiing poetry on a few centimeters of melted snow. Martin climbed the classical Mrežce (1965m), and had a lot of fun as he paraglided around Veliki Draški vrh and landed just in front of our cottage:
Solid spring conditions continued throughout April and we were planning to tackle the Bohinj trio - Matajurski vrh, Veliki Raskovec and Rodica for desert. Together with Robert and Leon we formed a strong team; however, the fog on the mountain summits was even stronger. For this reason we reached only Matajurski vrh (1936m), but took pleasure in compact snow in a valley of north-west direction. We celebrated the trip by swimming in the Bohinj lake and making plans for the future:
There was a good quantity of snow that accumulated over the winter, which meant the ski-touring season extended well into May. This is when Lojze, my father in law, finally got his act together and we climbed the Bela peč (2005m) mountain pass, which is just west of Gilberti hut (Sella Nevea). The trip had all the late spring elements, including but not limited to: hot sun, cold beer, dirty snow and most important - lots of fun:
At the end of May, when many Slovenians were taking off for the seaside, Leon and I were not ready to give up. Legendary Rok Medja gave me a hint that snow was still hiding in the valley behind Viševnik. We were rather skeptical, when we ascended above Rudno polje on grass; however, our doubts vanished when we peeked over the eastern ridge (Kačji rob). First we skied from Srenjski pass (1959m), then Studorski pass (1892m) with a short deviation towards Veliki Draški vrh (2240m), and then across Srenjski pass for the second time. It turned out to be a great trip to close the season, with more skiing then we dared to hope for:
In conclusion, the ski touring season 2017/18 was very productive and lasted for more than six months. This was something normal between 2006-2012, but less common in the last years. It was very cold with constant percipitation, which is also the reason why we skied lower mountains. Actually the average "summit" hight was only around 1750m. Karavanke and Pokljuka were the winning destinations, and I have skied many of the mountains for the first time (Grajščica, Murnovec, Macesnovec, Brda, Matajurski vrh, Bela peč and Srenjski / Studorski pass). I also had the opportunity to ski with my coworkers Robert and Miha, and most important - my son Jakob!
After we completed the memorable Murradweg about six years ago it was (more then) time for a new cycling adventure. Over the years I have learned that pushing our physical limits was usually not yielding dividends; on the contrary, other aspects of the journey were pushed aside and Ana was not happy with me to say the least. For this reason, I decided to make a very easy plan with maximum 50km of cycling per day and a bigger emphasis on local culture, food, swimming, nature and most important - relaxation. The expression on Ana's face at the end of the trip in Villach (photo above) is proving the plan was accomplished.
Before entering Slovenia the Drava (Drau) river flows through south Austria for around 300 kilometers; however, not known to many, it starts its journey as a tiny stream in Italian Dolomites, very close to a town called Toblach (Dobbiaco). After Lojze and Zoja dropped us off and headed home, we started to descend towards the Austrian border and later to Lienz - a lively alpine city. We were very lightly equipped, but had all the basics we needed. We cycled for about 3 hours per day, did a lot of swimming in Drava and the nearby lakes. We also enjoyed the Austrian food, which is not very light but certainly worth the sin. After 4 days of cycling, we took the train from Villach to Ljubljana and concluded we are coming back, next time with the kids!
If you decide to plan a similar trip, see our costs and recommendations:
Total cost for both: 400 eur
Bed per person: 25-35 eur
Dinner per person: 10-15 eur
Train ticket per person + bike: 20 eur
Must sleep cities: Lienz, Villach
Cities less interesting: Greifenburg, Spittal
Village for cofee/food: Lind im Drautal, Sachsenburg
Must stop for swim: Tristacher See, Moll-Drau confluence
Spittal: nice park, noisy, good restaurant: Mein Wirtshaus
Villach: picturesque, shopping, train station in center, Caffe Latte bar
I really cannot help myself but to post a traditional title "with the boys" for our legendary trips in the Balkans. Also note there is a post category called "Boys week" on the right side menu, which will filter out all the historical multi-day adventures with more or less the same boys!
This year we decided to go for a Balkan classic - starting in the Rila mountains (Bulgaria) where we finished off exactly two years ago. We then continued across the border to Macedonia, a country which is culturally diverse and geographically rugged. The biggest mountain range stands on the west, stretching from the capital Skopje towards the Ohrid lake on the border with Albania. A big portion of the mountains fall under the Mavrovo national park, while the highest peak is Korab. Not known to many, but this was actually the second highest peak in former Yugoslavia (right after Triglav in Slovenia). In addition, smaller mountain pockets are sporadically distributed across the country. This year we were really not lucky with the weather, but still we managed to squeeze three ski-touring trips and even more important, enjoyed quality time with the boys. The trip map and a few snapshots below.
We took advantage of stable weather in the first days and capitalized a round trip across Malovitca (2738m), booking 25km and finishing in pitch darkness:
Lonely Plenet mentioned "there is not much to see" in Kyustendil, and since Artač is a big fan of such cities, we had to make a short stop before crossing the border with Macedonia. In the end this common Bulgarian city rewarded our visit with a cheap and authentic lunch, draft beer and as you see on the photos below, a few tourist attractions also:
The last day in Bulgaria was cloudy and cold, but after passing the border the skies cleared up and we were welcomed with warm Macedonian sun. This was rather expected as the sun is strongly promoted on their national flag. After a few kilometers, Artač asked his rhetorical and (by now) legendary question: "I wonder what is hiding in this valley?" Before anybody could respond, we were already ascending south and passing deserted mining facilities. When Leon woke up, he could not completely comprehend this ad hoc ski-touring situation. After about 15 minutes, we were already ascending towards Ruen (2251m) and quickly found out that the lead mining in the mountain is far from being deserted. Even though most of the trip was completed in darkness, the mountain gave us the best skiing of the trip:
Macedonia is full of cozy monasteries which played a crucial role in preserving Christianity during the long period of Muslim dominance:
Skopje is a city of paradox - the center is completely renovated with spectacular monuments which are suppose to revive the "Macedonian" heritage. You can find the Muslim quarters (Čaršija) just a few minutes away. Naturally we spent a longer time in Čaršija and enjoyed traditional pies (burek) and countless sweets such as Trileče, Baklava and Rice puding:
The next day we drove to the Mavrovo national park, and as the weather was looking slightly more promising, we decided to attach Korab (2764) - the highest mountain in the country. After overcoming a long and rocky road, we made a nice ski touring trip, but due to bad weather we did not reach the summit. No problem, we have to leave something for next time:
We then continued towards the south and finally reached Orhid, a very historical town and lake protected under Unesco heritage:
We spent the last day in Bitola, a lively city with a slightly Greek atmosphere. The city has a long and spectacular walking street, which is very unusual for the Balkans. We celebrated the success of our trip by a long night drinking in one of the local pubs. Obligatory morning burek to gear up for a long drive back to Ljubljana:
Although the weather was not really cooperating, the trip had other emphasis and we could really absorb the Macedonian culture and most important - free our Balkan soul.